Skip To Main Content

WHAT IS LEADERSHIP? UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP STYLES

Take a moment to envision a leader in your mind. If you’re like many, you’re probably thinking of someone in a senior position at work, school, or another hierarchical setting who manages people below them. But is that really what authentic leadership looks like?

THE DEFINITION OF LEADERSHIP

Leadership is “the act of leading a group of people or an organization.” However, a leader isn’t simply someone in a high-level position who tells others what to do – there’s much more to it than that.

Because of each individual’s personality, leadership isn’t “one-size-fits-all.” Every leader has their unique leadership style, and some are more successful than others. Understanding different leadership styles is a great way to paint an accurate picture of what leadership is.

UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP STYLES

Leadership styles refer to how someone guides, motivates, and manages others while strategizing and executing tactics to meet team and stakeholder demands.

Here are some of the most common leadership styles, how they work, the benefits of each, and the challenges they may face.

 

servant leadership is characterized by putting the needs of your team first

Servant Leadership Style

Servant leadership is characterized by putting the needs of your team first. Servant leaders are always looking for ways for their team members to grow and succeed personally and professionally. Instead of concentrating on results, servant leaders focus more on mentoring, empowering, and supporting their teams. 

Characteristics of servant leaders include: 

  1. Listening: You prioritize listening and view it as a critical part of communication.
  2. Empathy: You position yourself as an equal to your team members and let them know that you’re there to support them.
  3. Healing: You understand the importance of work/life balance, personal development, and health.
  4. Awareness: You take time to reflect on your goals and what’s happening with your team to assess future threats and opportunities.
  5. Persuasion: You’re able to encourage others to take action with effective communication rather than authority.
  6. Conceptualization: You can take a step back and focus on the “big picture,” and use this long-term vision to guide your day-to-day decisions and short-term goals.
  7. Foresight: With experience, knowledge of present circumstances, and an understanding of how your decisions impact the future, you’re able to take action toward goals or pivot when things need to change promptly – effectively managing risks.
  8. Stewardship: You’re able to effectively hold yourself and others accountable through leading by example and taking responsibility for your team.
  9. Commitment to the Growth of Others: You not only prioritize but are dedicated to the personal and professional development of every individual on your team.
  10. Building Communities: You understand the importance of relationships and strive to build a well-connected team.

Benefits: This is a highly effective leadership style because it’s focused on empowerment rather than management. Servant leaders invest in their team members and put them first, which builds a high level of trust and respect, encouraging team growth and satisfaction.

Challenges: Servant leadership isn’t especially common, and many leaders may have difficulty adopting this leadership style. Since it requires investing in and listening to others, it may not be the best fit for environments that involve fast decisions.

 

Transformational leadership style is highly inspirational, motivational, and leaders who help team members and company grow and achieve goals

Transformational Leadership Style

Those that follow the transformational leadership style are highly inspirational, motivational, passionate, and energized. They are equally dedicated to helping each team member, and the company grow and achieve goals.

You may adhere to a transformational leadership style if you: 

  • Practice and value active listening
  • Use your communication skills to empower, encourage, and enhance team success and push members outside of their comfort zone
  • Are growth-focused and willing to mentor and support each individual in their goals 

Benefits: With a focus on team-member growth through collaboration and communication, this leadership style can boost your team’s performance, retention, and morale. 

Challenges: This leadership style can have some potential drawbacks. For example, its heavy focus on one-to-one relationships increases the risk that group goals and accomplishments get overlooked. In addition, while challenging your team is great, constantly calling them to go above and beyond can lead to burn out.

 

Identity leadership is a style that focuses on leading yourself before you lead others.

Identity Leadership Style

Identity leadership is a style that focuses on leading yourself before you lead others. Coined and developed by best-selling author and educator Stedman Graham, Identity Leadership provides a framework for individuals to define, plan, and prepare for future success by eliminating self-doubt and clearly defining personal values. 

Stedman’s Identity Leadership utilizes The Nine Step Success Process© to help leaders succeed. These steps include:

  1. Check Your Identity: You must develop your identity before deciding what you want out of life.
  2. Create Your Vision: A well-defined vision enables you to set meaningful goals.
  3. Develop Your Travel Plan: Planning saves time, keeps you focused, and builds confidence.
  4. Master the Rules of the Road: You need guidelines to keep you on track in pursuit of a better life.
  5. Step into the Outer Limits: To grow, you have to leave your comfort zone, confront fears, and take risks.
  6. Pilot the Seasons of Change: Learn how to create change and manage your response.
  7. Build Your Dream Team: Build supportive relationships, perhaps with mentors, who will help you work toward your goals.
  8. Win by a Decision: The choices you make will be one of your greatest challenges.
  9. Commit to Your Vision: Devote consistent time and energy to pursuing your goals and vision.

Benefits: One of the biggest benefits of Identity Leadership is that it helps you understand yourself on a deeper level and empowers you to truly take control of your destiny. By understanding yourself, you can better lead others.

Challenges: The challenges will differ from person to person. Since this style is more about leading yourself and exploring your own identity, some may find it difficult to get started; however, this is where The Nine Step Success Process© comes into play. By following the steps, leaders can gradually work toward their goals and achieve greatness.

 

Autocratic leadership is a leadership style where individuals make decisions independently, without listening to or seeking input from others.

Autocratic Leadership Style

Autocratic leadership is a leadership style where individuals make decisions independently, without listening to or seeking input from others. You may have an autocratic leadership style if you are quick to make decisions without seeking the opinions of other team members and are rule-oriented and results-focused.

Benefits: Autocratic leaders are often dependable, confident, motivational, clear, and consistent. This leadership approach can increase productivity and relieve the stress of decision-making from other team members. Autocratic leadership styles work best in professions that require you to make difficult, timely decisions in high-pressure circumstances. 

For example, the military, law enforcement, and first responders are often in high-stakes situations and need leaders to make quick, strategic, and clear decisions.

Challenges: When used in improper settings, this leadership style can hurt your team’s morale and success. If this is your leadership style, make an effort to actively listen to your team, develop trust, and recognize accomplishments.

 

Democratic leaders are highly transparent, giving team members all the information they need to reach a decision. They encourage all members to voice their opinions and ideas, and work together to find a solution.

Democratic Leadership Style

This leadership approach is the complete opposite of autocratic leadership. Democratic leaders are highly transparent, giving team members all the information they need to reach a decision. They encourage all members to voice their opinions and ideas, and work together to find a solution.

You may have a democratic leadership style if you value group discussions, prioritize creativity and innovation, and are growth-focused. Democratic leaders are good mediators, flexible, and take time to consider others' input in their final decisions. 

Benefits: Including everyone in the decision-making process can make each individual feel like a valued team member, which encourages creativity, trust, and positive team morale. What’s more, having everyone involved in finding a solution gives your team the flexibility to do their work their way, keeping them motivated, productive, and engaged.

Challenges: Since this leadership style tends to include input from everyone and requires debates and discussions to reach a final decision, it can often be time-consuming. Democratic leadership isn’t ideal in environments where quick decision-making is required.

 

Those who follow a laissez-faire leadership style are the complete opposite of micromanagers. They take a hands-off approach to managing their team, giving members support when needed but not overseeing every detail.

Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

Those who follow a laissez-faire leadership style are the complete opposite of micromanagers. They take a hands-off approach to managing their team, giving members support when needed but not overseeing every detail. These leaders leave decisions, task management, and project execution up to each individual; however, they are still held accountable for their team.

You may take a laissez-faire approach if you prefer to delegate tasks, are comfortable with mistakes being made along the way, and prioritize autonomy and freedom of choice in the workplace.

Benefits: This leadership style fosters creativity and empowers team members to be more involved and hands-on, which improves their leadership skills and professional development. This style works best on teams with highly-experienced, skilled experts who don’t need much direction.

Challenges: While this approach can encourage growth, lack of oversight can also limit your team member’s professional development – especially those who are new and need more support. Leaders that take this approach need to be careful not to be too hands-off, as this can lead to a lack of structure and decreased productivity. If this is your leadership style, be sure to check in and provide feedback to your team regularly.

 

With coach-style leadership, leaders can see each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and heavily focus on their individual growth and development based on their unique skills and interests.

Coaching Leadership Style

With coach-style leadership, leaders can see each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and heavily focus on their individual growth and development based on their unique skills and interests. In addition, they work on implementing different tactics to promote collaboration, encouraging team members to learn from one another and build strong relationships.

Coaching leaders are supportive, self-aware, compassionate, and communicative. You may have a coaching style if you have these characteristics and understand the value of constructive feedback and praise, growth through learning, and giving guidance rather than to-do lists.

Benefits: This style promotes a mentor-mentee relationship and fosters a tight-knit work environment. It encourages team members to build their confidence, develop their skills, and gain the confidence they need to do more.  

Challenges: Even though these leaders focus on teamwork, this leadership style still requires an investment into individual team members, which can be more time-consuming. This may not be the most effective fit in work environments with time-sensitive objectives and deadlines.

WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE

Knowing your leadership style is critical to your professional and personal development. By knowing how you think and work, you can better understand and improve upon your strengths and weaknesses. 

If you’ve identified your leadership style, you should spend some time thinking about how it lines up with the type of leader you want to be and what works best in your expected profession and work environment.

HOW TO HONE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE

Great leadership skills and a strong leadership style go hand in hand – and they don’t develop overnight. Whether your current and desired leadership styles align or need some work, the good news is that you have the power to make changes that can help you grow in the right direction. 

One of the best ways to continuously improve your leadership skills and better understand your unique style is to connect with a leadership society like The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS).

See how students like you are leading their way to success.

Get Inspired by Your Peers